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Springfield Fire Leaves 17 Homeless

In this photo provided by the American Red Cross, firefighters battle an early morning fire that has displaced 17 people in downtown Springfield, Vt.  on Monday March 25, 2013. Officials say the fire heavily damaged the seven-unit apartment building.  (AP Photo/American Red Cross)

In this photo provided by the American Red Cross, firefighters battle an early morning fire that has displaced 17 people in downtown Springfield, Vt. on Monday March 25, 2013. Officials say the fire heavily damaged the seven-unit apartment building. (AP Photo/American Red Cross)

Springfield, Vt. — An early-morning fire severely damaged a large apartment house on Valley Street yesterday morning, leaving 17 people homeless, including one family with five children.

The fire at 84 Valley St. broke out at about 2 a.m., in the second floor apartment occupied by a family with five children, said Fire Chief Russell Thompson.

No one was hurt in the fire, and all the residents escaped safely. He said a Bellows Falls firefighter was taken to Springfield Hospital as a precaution after he felt sick.

The chief said that the fire was not suspicious, and the cause was unknown.

The Red Cross was working to find temporary shelter for the seven different families, according to Doug Bishop, a spokesman for the organization. The Red Cross set up temporary headquarters at the Springfield Community Center, and fed the residents breakfast and arranged short-term help, he said.

He said that seven families had been put up in area motels for the next couple of days, and the Red Cross was working with other social service agencies to find the tenants new homes. He said the tenants had also been given money cards to purchase new clothes and food to tide them over.

The apartment building is owned by L&M Developers Inc. of Springfield, a large landlord in Springfield, according to records on file at the Springfield town hall. Michael Woychosky and Ling Wang are the officers of L&M, which owns nine different properties in Springfield, including another apartment building on Valley Street. Woychosky himself owns three other buildings in town.

Woychosky was also the owner of a house on Pearl Street, which was destroyed by fire in January 2010, and took the life of a Springfield man, Leslie Streeter. Woychosky couldn’t be reached for comment.

The fire chief said the department had problems with inadequate water pressure along Valley Street. He said for a time during the fire the department and other firefighters had very little water to put on the blazing fire.

Photographs of the fire posted on YouTube and Twitter show firefighters poised to fight the blaze, with only one spray of water trained on the raging fire engulfing the three-story building.

Thompson said that despite being in the village hydrant district, a hydrant at the corner of Valley Street and Common Street had very little pressure, and that firefighters quickly laid 400 feet of hose down to a large hydrant on Main Street. He said he also had Walpole, N.H.’s fire department’s cascade unit set up to provide additional water.

Neighbor Richard Hamann said he was awoken by the sounds of the commotion, and initially thought it was just a fight. But he finally got up when he realized the building next door was on fire.

“The first thing I saw was smoke, no flames, pouring from the second floor,” said Hamann. Eventually the smoke and the fire worked up into the roof, he said, and it spread along the back of the building and a small ell.

“It eventually engulfed the whole building,” said Hamann, who has lived on Valley Street since the 1990s. He said he was on the lookout for one tenant’s missing orange and white cat, which had escaped the burning building. That tenant’s apartment was not damaged by fire.

Hamann said that the building had been badly damaged in an earlier fire in the 1980s, and that the building had been reconstructed.

Thompson, the fire chief, said fighting the fire had been difficult because of the type of construction of the building, and its later reconstruction.

“It’s a balloon-type construction, and there were at least 40 rooms in that building,” said Thompson. He said firefighters would tear out one wall and find no fire, and a few feet away, another wall was on fire.

Thompson said he didn’t know whether the building could be rebuilt.

“It’s severely damaged,” Thompson said. “It will be a question for a structural engineer.”

Thompson said firefighters from Bellows Falls, Chester, Ascutney, West Weathersfield, Westminster and Charlestown, Walpole and Claremont, N.H., helped fight the fire or cover empty stations.

Bishop, of the Red Cross, said organization had responded to four fires in Vermont in the past 48 hours, including another apartment fire in Canaan, and fires in Duxbury and Moretown.

He said the Red Cross had spent $4,000 alone on helping the tenants in Canaan.

People who wish to contribute to the Red Cross could go to www.redcross.org/vermont, or mail to Red Cross of Vermont, 29 Mansfield Ave., Burlington, VT 05401.

Bishop said the Red Cross does not accept donations of items such as clothing because it doesn’t have storage facilities.